Industry Insights

Sales Force Automation Solutions Focus on Seller Empowerment

Today, we all acknowledge the correlation between customer experience management and employee engagement. There is so much research out there demonstrating the high impact of empowering employees with the right technology that makes employees more productive and feel engaged. Last November, one of the contributors, Barb Mosher Zinck, interviewed Eric Berridge, CEO of Bluewolf, an IBM Company, on his new book, called Customer Obsessed. During that interview, Berridge said that before you start getting concerned about the type of freedom you give employees, you need to provide them with systems that are simple to use, intuitive and prescriptive. When everything is hidden in spreadsheets on desktops when employees aren’t connected to information, that’s when they tend to make things up, make concessions and Berridge said they don’t have the information or collaboration needed to properly position products in the customer’s journey. If you want control over the message and how your employees engage, then you have to invest in the technology.

This article will discuss one specific tool out of that technology stack that powers organizations with integrated sales processes from opportunity, upsell and quote management to sales forecasting, order management, fulfillment, and sales commission: Sales Force Automation Solutions.

In late June, Forrester published yet another Wave report on Sales Force Automation Solutions (SFA). The market research firm once again evaluated all the big players in the space. However, what strikes me the most about the report is that how the role of SFA solutions has been changed. However, to understand what has changed and why it has changed, first, we need to look at SFA solutions’ core premise.

Typically, Forrester says, the most common use of SFA was programmatically prescribing rigid sales processes wrapped around basic contact and account management, meaning implementing SFA to clone the processes of top performing sellers. With this limited use case, naturally, the potential of SFA technology has been under-tapped over the last two decades. The main reason behind this is that SFA solutions were designed around the needs of managers and executives, according to Forrester. Today, we all know that businesses should put their customers at the center of their technology platform. In other words, they should align their products and services around the customer journey, as Berridge puts it.

SFA solutions came to the point where their offerings became simply obsolete to effectively supporting the needs of sellers and frontline customer engagement professionals to keep up with rapidly changing buyer behaviors. So what went wrong? First off, the use for programmatically prescribing rigid sales processes, as mentioned, couldn’t enable sales forces to respond to buyers’ demand for personalized interactions. Since the rigid sales process is in play, arbitrary metrics to gauge sales performance were focused on the quantity of data such as the number of calls made, meetings scheduled, and contacts created. With that focus, the quality of engagement was ignored. Besides its functionality flaws, SFA solutions were also making salespeople less productive as they were designed around the needs of managers and executives so salespeople were spending a great deal of time on the preparation of those forecasts and activity reports and less time on nurturing prospects and customers.

Finally, just like every other component of the technology industry, the Sales Force Automation market has been disrupted. Due to evolving technology advancement and the altering needs of both salespeople and customers, the SFA vendors shifted their focus from a sales management tool to seller empowerment channel. According to the Forrester Wave, today's modern SFA solutions respond to the ripple-through effect of IT disruption and enhance the sales experience by:

  • Delivering unique tailored experiences for various sales roles.

  • Minimizing the amount of manual data entry.

  • Offering new efficiencies through mobile devices and apps.

  • Plugging the holes around seller functionality with first- or third-party solutions.

  • Delivering AI-driven recommendations and next-best actions.

Intelligent SFA Tools

“Employees are getting smarter all the time. But a lot of the technology inside a company hasn’t changed. Match the evolution of your employee with the evolution of your technology to create engagement and get more control,” said Eric Berridge, CEO of Bluewolf, in an interview.

Gone are the days when sales reps were considered a valuable source of information because it simply doesn’t apply to today’s business world anymore. Today, the success of a sales rep depends on whether they can provide meaningful, relevant interactions with buyers. As Steve Jobs once said: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” So how could a salesperson gain insight to show a buyer what they want, considering today’s modern self-researcher customer mostly decides what to buy long before they create contact with sales or a support department? The answer is an integrated technology ecosystem that takes the guesswork out of the sales process and enables sales teams to deliver smarter customer experiences across sales interactions. In fact, 46 percent of business and technology professionals have identified marketing/sales as a top area for the evaluation or investment in AI technologies, according to another report from Forrester, entitled "AI Must Learn The Basics Before It Can Transform Marketing".

As SFA solutions are shifting their focus on the customer by injecting intelligence to lead qualification and forecasting processes, Forrester claims: “Vendors that can drive efficiencies and provide intelligent recommendations to sellers position themselves to successfully help their customers win the hearts and wallets of modern buyers.”

Another benefit of intelligent SFA tools is to give sales teams unprecedented visibility into every aspect of the customer relationship, including support cases and back-office information such as contracts and inventory. As a result, it creates upselling opportunities besides customer engagement. On that note, according to Mckinsey, cross-selling techniques increase sales by 20 percent and profits by 30 percent. After all, Amazon stated that 35 percent of its revenues come from its cross-sales and upselling efforts.

The Market Overview  

According to a Technavio research report, the global sales force automation (SFA) market is expected to grow at an impressive CAGR of 9.8% over the next five years due to the increase in the need to reduce the sales cycle. According to Gartner, though, the market will reach $9.4 billion by 2019.

In Forrester’s Wave, Salesforce, the company that sounds very much like the category itself, leads the pack alongside Microsoft and Oracle whereas Pegasystems, bpm'online, SAP, and SugarCRM offer competitive options. CRMNEXT, NetSuite, and Infor need to enhance their offerings, according to the research firm. Based on the inclusion criteria that Forrester used for compiling the report, each vendor must:

  • Offer a solution suitable for enterprise organizations with complex requirements.

  • Provide a solution targeted at multiple industries.

  • Have a product in general release and in use by customers.

  • Appear regularly in Forrester customer inquiries.


Customer engagement is not a destination, neither is employee engagement. With the explosion of data and ways of gathering it, the process of translating it into actionable recommendations is getting harder and harder. Today, companies, which want to proactively measure the impact of every digital investment on their online and offline sales revenue, have no other choice than embracing cognitive computing to drive meaningful actionable recommendations from their customer data and make educated decisions on the state of their customers. Therefore, only the vendors which are focused on core and emerging SFA capabilities, including its support of a variety of sales personas, territory and quota management, partner relationship management, sales process support, and AI and machine learning recommendations, will remain in the game in the upcoming years.

Venus Tamturk

Venus Tamturk

Venus is the Media Reporter for CMS-Connected, with one of her tasks to write thorough articles by creating the most up-to-date and engaging content using B2B digital marketing. She enjoys increasing brand equity and conversion through the strategic use of social media channels and integrated media marketing plans.

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